A Quickie UK and Ireland Adventure

A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine invited me along on a whirlwind trip that can be best described as a reverse brewery tour. His brewery, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. (AZWBC), brewed a beer in conjunction with Jimmy Eat World’s new album. The idea was that the brewery would host tap takeovers in the same cities the band was playing. So rather than visiting local breweries in a foreign city, we took an Arizona brewery to said foreign cities. We didn’t tour breweries, we took a brewery on tour.

I’ve been a fan of Jimmy Eat World for two decades. I first saw them at the Che Cafe in San Diego in 1996 and, for the following few years, every chance I got. They were an integral part of the music scene that largely defined my identity in those years. The band has been on constant and regular rotation through the albums and decades.


Not Our Child

So, presented with the opportunity to follow one of my favorite bands through a country I’ve grown to love while promoting and drinking great beer… seemed like a no-brainer.

The itinerary was simple but demanding. A different city every day. London, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, Buxton, and then back to London.

I met Jonathon and Patrick, owners of AZWBC, at Sky Harbor on Saturday night. The red eye was uneventful. I scored an emergency row seat and slept most of the 9.5-hour flight. Good thing too, that was the best sleep I would get the whole trip.

We landed in Heathrow, met up with Matt, a photographer documenting the trip, and checked in. Evening rolled in so we headed to dinner with the bass player of the band. The rest of the night was fun but uneventful. Turns out London doesn’t party on Sunday nights. We ended up back in the hotel in the wee hours of the morning eating chicken wings that had been sitting out for a day, but we didn’t die. So there’s that.


Photo: Matt Coats*

The next day we flew to Dublin. I had a score to settle with the city. Years ago, Anna and I and another couple spent the last day of a great trip in Dublin. We were all set on an epic pub crawl through the city’s historic pubs but every single pub was closed. Turns out, there’s one day every year that it’s illegal to sell alcohol in Ireland: Good Friday.

After checking into our hotel we made for a historic pub and bellied up to the bar. I noticed the two guys next to me sounded American. They were from Gilbert. Of the 8 people at the bar 7 were American and 1 was Irish. He drinks for free. Just a prop.

We tried a number of different Irish Pubs©. They all had the same contrived atmosphere. As we opened pub doors, stale U2 covers wafted liberally therefrom. Blech. Off to The Olympia for the show.

The Olympia is a cool ornate historic theater with two cool bars inside. The band hooked us up with a great box. We drank, sang along and made some friends. The rest of the night mirrored the beginning: terrible bars with terrible U2 cover bands. I met a radio DJ who wanted to pick a fight about how bland the Jimmy Eat World show was. I finally defused his hostility by bringing up Randy Newman. We emphatically agreed Randy was the best thing ever and parted friends. It was not the best Monday. Monday, bloody Monday.


Jimmy Eat World @ The Olympia Photo: Matt Coats*

The next morning we made our way to the train station for a remarkably pleasant train ride to Belfast. We picked up our rental car and headed for the north coast. It rained all day but we were finally out of urbanity and into the countryside. After a quick stop at the old Bushmills distillery, we headed for the Giant’s Causeway. Pictures. Rain. Chinese tourists. Shenanigans. Back to Belfast.

Our night in Belfast was magical. We all were feeling a bit run down and melancholy after the dud that was Dublin. The show venue was terrible and the band was not 100%. We hung around for a few minutes and decided to head out. Some in our party wanted to call it a night but we decided we owed Belfast at least one drink. So we headed out, walking aimlessly into Belfast’s alleys.

The name of the game was cocktails. We nearly passed a nondescript blinking neon sign before someone noticed that it looked like it might be a cocktail bar. As we opened the door, the Doors… “this is the end, my only friend, the end…” We stepped into a bar directed by Wes Anderson: ironic 70s decor with deep velvet couches and tassels hanging from every conceivable edge. Our bodies sank into the couches as we ordered a round of safe cocktails. Home run. More cocktails, more home runs, more fantastic vintage analog tunes. The bartender was a magician. Not just great tasting drinks but he wielded visual alchemy with waterfalls of blue flame and novelty glassware that seemed to be made specific for each drink.

We headed out about midnight, found a proper foot stomping Irish pub, went on the prowl for food, and managed to find a cool little pizza joint with super friendly employees. We took our pizzas back to the apartment, ate, had a few more drinks. Pat and Jonathon retired and Matt and I decided that we should check into the election. We managed to tune in right at the moment when the world was realizing that Clinton was not a lock. We watched, mouths agape, as commentators started to unravel. It was surreal. We crashed around 4am and awoke to a new world. Luckily, I made a shirt just for the occasion.


The next day we headed to Glasgow via a little prop plane. Our first stop was recommended by Matt: a tour of the Auchentoshan distillery. Our tour was administered by a delightful, knowledgeable, and hilarious guide. As soon as he determined that the brewers in the party weren’t your average visitors he pulled out all the stops: “don’t tell anyone I let you do this…” I’ll honor his requests here, but needless to say, it was awesome. We bought an awesome bottle of scotch for the road and headed to the beer event.


The beer bar was cool and the locals were friendly and warm but… next door was a cool ramshackle tiki bar. We shared a great volcano bowl and Matt and I headed to the venue. I’d been looking forward to the Barrowland Ballroom show ever since my Glasgowegian cousin Carol enthusiastically endorsed the venue as “one of the most iconic venues in the U.K.” It was a great venue and fantastic show. I met up with Carol and her friend, both of whom we had to coax to come out for one drink after the show but managed to hang with us until about 3.  We crashed with Carol and headed to the train station for Manchester in the morning.


Photo Matt Coats*

On the way to Manchester, we had to change trains at Preston. We decided to find a local pub for a proper pint. I sifted through a few locals on the CAMRA app and settled on a place called the Continental. On the way to the pub, I got a little turned around and decided that we might need to jump a few fences. Our little off road excursion turned into a mini adventure as we made our way through spooky old buildings and down into dripping tunnels with their own victorian street lights. The pub was as hoped, and we shared a few real ales and dinner.


Preston’s Underworld

I was just in Manchester a couple months prior at the end of my Dale’s Way walk. I really like this city. People are friendly and there’s an energy that resonates with me. We skipped the Manchester show and headed to the beer event at a really great beer bar (Beer Moth). After the event, we stumbled into a basement bar aptly named Crazy Pedro’s Part-Time Pizza Parlor. A tequila and mezcal cocktail bar, Crazy Pedro’s randomly and regularly handed out free slices of pizzas to the pulsating pack of patrons. At some point, I went out to smoke a cigar and had a dozen Trump conversations. Jonathon and I headed back to the apartment around 4.

Since Jonathon proposed this trip, his enthusiasm for the town and people of Buxton was apparent. AZWBC and Buxton Brewery have a special relationship. It was clear shortly after our arrival in Buxton that this relationship went beyond a mutual love for brewing, and ventured into a deep friendship complete with its own unique code and ritual. We headed straight for the hills to the folly known as Solomon’s Temple. I’ll state simply that many hijinks were had on that hill.


Smokin and jokin. Photo Matt Coats*

The rest of the night was spent bouncing between the Buxton Brewing tap room and a cocktail bar called the Monk. We ended up singing and dancing at the Monk until about 7. As we walked to our BnB, dawn broke. Three hours later, we headed to the airport for a short flight back to London.

We were spent. We were done drinking. We were going to crash in London. But, alas, we ended up back at the King’s Arm drinking and carousing – not even a little board. The last night was a blur of new friends, bars, and clubs, finally getting to sleep about 5. In the morning, we were a disheveled sight to see. We shuffled to Heathrow and headed home.

A fast and furious trip, suited for people half my age, it’s good to know that those gray whiskers are just gray whiskers.


*Matt Coats is a fun guy and takes great photos. See more of his stuff at http://mattcoats.com and https://www.instagram.com/mattcoats/

The American’s Guide To Planning A British Walking Tour, Part 1: The What And Why

During my walks, many of the British folk I meet are baffled why I would come all the way across the ocean to hike in their backyard. They have a point. The United States is unmatched in terms of pure natural aesthetic and diversity. From the Grand Canyon (virtually in my backyard) to the coast and virgin redwoods forests of California to the bucolic farm country of New England, there’s really no place like the U.S.

Of course, natural beauty is not the only reason to go for a hike. Before I discuss why someone may want to take a British walking tour, I want to briefly talk about what a British walking tour is exactly. (See my post from last year for a more detailed explanation.)

Generally, the type of walking tour with which this blog is concerned is a self-guided hike on a long distance end-to-end British footpath. While these trails generally dip in and through rural farmland and villages, they never really stray too far from civilization. A day’s walk will usually include breakfast, lunch, and dinner in three different and distinct villages. Every night, a walker will lodge in a B&B, inn or the occasional hotel. This is not the type of wilderness hiking we are accustomed to in the U.S.

So why go on a British walking tour? I’ll give you four reasons:

Tangible History

Most Europeans I’ve talked to don’t share the American’s fascination with historical sites. When you grow up in a place where there are remnants of Neolithic settlements, the Roman empire, and medieval societies, history loses its novelty. With the exception of the isolated and sporadic native American ruins, there are very few signs of human history in the U.S. A 100-year-old house is considered historically significant enough to exempt the owner from certain real estate taxes in some U.S. states. Meanwhile, living in a 300 old structure in some European cities not uncommon.

In England, I can walk through neolithic long barrows, iron age hill forts, Roman ruins and maintained medieval structures, all in a single day. Walking into a slouching 17th-century pub and having to crouch to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling, teaches me more about the nutrition of 17th century Europeans in a more tangible way than any museum exhibit could. It’s a study in living history that just doesn’t exist in the U.S. (Sidenote: in looking for a picture of a tall man in a pub, I found my English doppelganger.)


Tall man, short pub.

In the Dales, I visited a 12th-century Norman church that was built on the remains of an Anglo-Saxon church, which itself was built on the remains of a Roman settlement. In the church stood three 9th-century Anglo-Saxon crosses covered in flowing designs and, in the corner, were two 4th-century Roman altars discovered in the oldest part of the foundations of the church. It’s such a thrill to see and physically touch the tangible continuity of culture. I could run my fingers along grooves in stone carved by an ancient Roman. Real. Tangible. History.

Infrastructure, Physical and Legal

English and Welsh law recognize a unique principle  known as “Rights of Way.” This right grants the walking public access to a network of public footpaths and bridleways that honeycomb the countryside. These footpaths are trails that often run through private property. In Scotland, a walker has the “Right to Roam” over almost any private land as long as they act responsibly. Over the years, long distance paths (each often referred to as a “Way”) through and to points of interest have developed. These trails, while often passing through protected wilderness areas, most of the time, pass through rural but largely uninhabited areas that are dotted with villages and towns.


Contrasted with the American system of trails, where we generally hike there-and-back routes through rugged and remote virgin nature, the British walking experience includes interaction with people, culture, and history. The British walking tour means, more times than not, you’re in a small village, each with a unique history and feel, for lunch and another village for dinner. In the U.S., if you find a trail that passes so regularly through inhabited areas, you’re likely to find yourself eating at Burger King and staying in a Motel 6. Not quite the same experience.

British long-distance footpaths are well marked with regular waymarkers. The waymarkers are regular enough that you could almost get away with walking an entire 100-mile route without a map. That being said, there’s a thriving British walking trail guidebook market. These guides provide the walker with detailed maps as well information on local points of interests.

With established routes, the locals have fostered a cottage (literally) industry of services that cater to walkers. B&Bs, inns, and the occasional hotel, offering comfortable lodging and hot meals, are conveniently located along the trails. Baggage handling services are available on many trails (more on that later).

Lastly, unlike the U.S., most of the trailheads for a long distance footpath are accessible by public transportation. The country has an outstanding train system that will likely get you within walking distance of a trailhead. In rare cases where a train doesn’t run to a trailhead, a train can get you within a few miles and buses and taxis can take you those last few miles.

Active And Authentic Cultural Experiences

For the American, Britain offers all the benefits of experiencing a different culture without the stress of an insurmountable language barrier. True, American and the British are not that different. But they are different enough that we can confuse each other whilst speaking the same language, and that’s kind of amusing. Alright, mate?


Walking the countryside is an excellent way to bypass the crowds, high cost, and gimmicks of the tourist honeypots and actively experience the history and culture of Britain firsthand. Exploring the ruins of an off-the-beaten-path hill fort or simply chatting with a local over a pint of real ale brewed down the street will result in a more authentic and more memorable experience than passively whipping around on a double-decker site-seeing bus in London.


While we don’t need to leave the U.S. to experience bucolic beauty, rural England has it in spades. Thatched roofs, dry stone walls, and cobblestone bridges, the British countryside reflects the charming reality of the absurd rococo romanticism of Thomas Kinkade.


There’s something very special about sauntering through an old sheep field, into an ancient forest, and then into a picturesque British village.

Thousands of years ago, Britain was more or less a giant forest. Over the millennia virtually all the forests were felled. What was left was a land sculpted by men. Asymmetrical property lines resulting in patchwork landscape. We tend to think of nature as a place unmolested by humans, but in England, there are very few places that can claim such a description. Nature in England has been tamed and domesticated. But it’s an ancient domestication, resulting mostly from the hands of ancient people rather than the earth churning mega machines that spit out strip malls that we have in the U.S.

There’s nothing quite like it in the states.


In summary, Britain offers a unique and accessible walking experience not available in the states. It’s a uniquely beautiful place filled with history and culture that an American can experience without feeling isolated by a language barrier.

This has been Part 1 of The American’s Guide To Planning An British Walking Tour, click here for Part 2: The Where, When, and Who and Part 3: The How.